European Marine Sites

Possibly new Marine SPA in Northumberland:

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas where specific living and sometimes non-living resources are legally protected. To ensure this protection, restrictions may apply to some activities in these areas of our seas. In the UK, MPAs have primarily been set up to help conserve marine biodiversity, in particular species and habitats of European and national importance.

The main types of MPAs in English waters are:

  • European Marine Sites (also known as Natura 2000 sites) which are special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for habitats of European importance and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds
  • and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for nationally important habitats and species

These sites will contribute to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs.


Need for protected areas

With a coastline of over 18,000km, the UK has a large marine area, rich in marine life and natural resources. England’s seas are home to some of the best marine wildlife in Europe, with a wide diversity of underwater habitats and species. Many of our marine habitats and species are particularly rare and therefore of an international importance.

The marine environment is coming under increasing pressure from human activity, which can damage and further threaten marine ecosystems. By protecting our marine environment now, we can ensure that our seas, which are a common resource, will continue to contribute to our society for generations to come.

MPAs are one way in which we can:

  • protect areas of threatened species and habitats to help ensure biodiversity is not lost as a result of widespread damaging activities
  • protect areas of representative species and habitats to help ensure that they do not become threatened as a result of human activities
  • provide some relatively unaffected areas of high biodiversity value to support the structure and functioning of the wider marine ecosystem

MPAs have been used for fisheries management and for nature conservation, but they can also be established to provide multiple benefits.

European Marine Sites (EMS)

The EU Habitats Directive requires the creation of a network of marine protected areas known as European Marine Sites (EMS) or ‘Natura 2000′.

This network consists of:

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect habitats and species listed under the Habitats Directive
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect birds under the EU Wild Birds Directive

The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) Regulations 2012 came into force in England and Wales in August 2012. They cover territorial seas out to 12 nautical miles. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulations which cover the territorial seas adjacent to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 also came into force in August 2012.

Progress with completing the network of EMS

In UK territorial and offshore waters there are:

  • 107 SACs with marine components, for marine habitats or species
  • 107 SPAs with a marine component, for birds

Nearly a quarter of English inshore waters is now protected in EMS.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is responsible for identifying offshore SACs and SPAs and Natural England is responsible for identifying SACs and SPAs in English territorial waters.

Following Defra’s submission of 11 sites to the European Commission in 2012, and based on current available evidence, the SAC network in UK waters is nearing completion.

Defra is working with Natural England and JNCC to finish identifying and where possible, classifying, more marine SPAs by the end of 2015.

Legislation for designating MPAs

The UK marine protected areas network, which protects important marine species and habitats, will include the following designations:

In March 2012 Defra published the report of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Part 5) enables ministers to designate and protect Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English inshore and English and Welsh offshore waters.